Review: Fighting Spirit Film Festival 2019
"When we started Fighting Spirit in 2016, the mission was clear; to promote, inspire and support rising martial arts and action filmmakers by giving them a platform to show their work to
a cinema audience. We wanted to recognise the skills they have and build a community that connected people together. Since then we have grown in size and form, with more premier screenings of feature films by established talents as well as great classics." - Fighting Spirit Film Festival Team.
Fighting Spirit is the UK's only annual festival dedicated to martial arts/action cinema and continues to build up its unwavering reputation as being the event for up and coming film makers of action cinema to showcase their work; this year's celebrations of fresh and diverse talent is no exception. Held on 7th - 8th September at Stratford East Picture House in London, audiences enjoyed a packed full programme that featured live demonstrations by martial arts experts such as Shi Heng Ren and Max Repossi (to name but two) and a healthy dose of short films each ranging from 3 to 25 minutes long, as well as new and classic features including The Mercenary, Dragons Forever (a particular favourite with many Jackie Chan fans) and Zhang Yimou's timeless epic Hero (starring Jet Li).
(Above photo) Actor/Director/Producer Jason Ninh Cao
Due to other commitments I wasn't able to attend both days and thus missed out on Saturday's line-up. It was also with regret that I didn't arrive in time to see the seminar on Sunday morning hosted by Mike Fury with guests Zara Phythian (actress and martial artist; Tribal, Dr. Strange), Matt Routledge (writer and director; Tribal, Fixer) and Dan Styles (action coordinator; Avengement). Actor and stunt performer Jean Paul-Ly (Nightshooters, Jailbreak), whom I interviewed earlier this year for NEO magazine, was scheduled to take part but due to filming abroad this wasn't made possible. No doubt that those that were part of the audience went away happy and entertained.
(Above photo) Filmmaker Daniellla Dahoui interviewed by Jessa Macsaet and Steven Booth
Fortunately I got to see all the short films that were screened on Sunday (full list at bottom of post) and I must say overall I was pretty impressed with the selection, which I'm told was whittled down from 62 entries. Each one brought something new and different to the genre. Obviously when you're presented with such a wide variety of choice there's going to be some that will stand out more than others, but that's just personal preference. The films that I favoured the most were Whirlpool, a story about a guy called Jimmy who has a disability and trains in the martial arts and confronts his father's 'carer' for neglect; No Way Out, an ex-criminal who is hired by the police to work undercover in a drug cartel but has his cover blown when he rescues a little girl; Sensei Fran Kicks Ass, an inspiring documentary about an 80-year-old American woman who is a master in Japanese martial arts and who doesn't think twice about snowboarding and skiing as a way of having fun. This is a film that would be right at home on a TV channel like SKY Arts or BBC Four. What was particularly admirable about this year's line-up is that it included more female talent than ever before, especially behind the camera, as in the case of Sensei Fran Kicks Ass directed by Simone Fary, which won the the award on Sunday for audience choice.
Here is the full list of awards presented that weekend:
Best Short: No Way Out
Best Actor: Max Huang: No Way Out
Best Actress:Linda Louise Duan - 10 Minutes For a Pound
Best Director: Nicholas Wenger - The Kid
Best Documentary: Sensei Fran Kicks Ass
Best Cinematography: Dead End II
Best Action Choreography: No Way Out
Audience Choice Sat: Tiger Claw
Audience Choice Sun: Sensei Fran Kicks Ass
(Above photo) Action Director/Choreographer Vincent Wang
In between the screening and demonstrations there was plenty of time to mingle and chat with the special guests and have your photo taken with them on the red carpet as well as an opportunity to excite your taste buds by indulging in some specially made Fighting Spirit Kupcakes whilst you browse the stalls selling martial arts/action cinema related merchandise. It was good to see some familiar faces and have a catch up with the likes of Chris Jones, Ron Ivey (London East Asian Film & Events - I'm sure he was just there for the Kupcakes) and Eastern Heroes founder Rick Baker. These types of events just wouldn't be the same without them. Hang on, is that a good or bad thing?! (Hee, hee!)
(Above photo) Eastern Heroes founder Rick Baker
(Above photo) Merchandise stall run by Terry Dobson and Dave
(Above photo) Fighting Spirit Film Festival Kupcakes
(Above photo) Screenshot from Q&A with producer Jason Ninh Cao and action director/choreographer Vincent Wang after the screening of the film Loi Bao
The evening drew to a close with the screening of Loi Bao, directed by Victor Wu and starring Cuong Seven as a man who is dying of a terminal illness and undergoes experimental medical treatment that gives him superhuman powers. The Vietnamese produced film is a little unorthodox but this doesn't go against it - it was thoroughly enjoyable - an odd (in a good way) mixture of comedy, action and drama. This was followed by a Q&A with the film's producer Jason Ninh Cao and action director/choreographer Vincent Wang (The Immortal, Dr.Strange) who shared their experience of working together on the film.
(Above Photo: Copyright Fighting Spirit Film Festival) Blue Dragon display by graffiti artist Khaled (Mr. Butella) in memory of Mr. Bill Cole
A special mention must be made to graffiti artist Khaled (Mr. Butella) who designed and painted a fantastic blue dragon display that was presented in honour of Fighting Spirit Film Festival director Soo Cole's father Bill who sadly passed away on the 3rd September. Soo, who nursed her father throughout his long-term illness, bravely demonstrated what it means to have a 'fighting spirit' during this most difficult time as she continued with the festival as planned, making sure everyone had a great time. Although her father was unable to attend any of the Fighting Spirit festivals, he was always very supportive and proud of Soo's efforts. Therefore, I would like to dedicate this write-up to the memory of Bill Cole. May he rest in best.
For more information about Fighting Spirit Film Festival, go to: